Windsurfing is an increasingly popular past time for many people with disabilities.
With no need for special adaptations or costly equipment, it’s easier than you think to get out on the water.
Just as many windsurfers have learned to adapt to their disabilities, many windsurfing instructors and clubs throughout Britain have found innovative ways to accommodate everyone into their sessions. This ensures that if someone with a disability wants to windsurf, they will find a way to make it happen.
Whether it be mobility issues, amputees, visually or hearing impaired individuals or people with learning disabilities, all abilities are being catered for at clubs and centres. Often, many instructors find it just requires a bit of common sense, small adaptations to how sessions are run or small equipment changes, and empathy to connect with a student, no matter what their level of ability.
Over the past few years, the vast majority of barriers to participation have been removed, meaning anyone can now visit their local club or centre and get out on the water, regardless of ability.
After losing his legs aged 18, following a period of rehabilitation Craig Wood was inspired to resume his windsurfing, and has since gone on to represent the British Sailing Team.
Craig said: “I got into the sport because my father windsurfed. I was the only kid in school who did it, and I thought that gave me an edge. Not only does no one else do it, it was also really good fun.
“When I was 17 I joined the army because I like an active lifestyle. I got inured at 18, and two years afterwards when I got walking again, I rang up my dad and said ‘Yeah we’re going windsurfing, let’s do it.’ And he was like, ‘yeah alright’ and that was a really big step in my recovery.”
Liam Cattermole, current World Blind Match Racing World Champion, has Retinitis Pigmentosa and believes taking up windsurfing has given him great freedom to enjoy himself on the water.
“I’ve always grown up around water, and windsurfing is one of the few things I hadn’t done. I thought it looked really good fun, so I gave it ago and have really enjoyed it. As long as my instructor is close to me, I don’t have any problems at all. It’s great being in charge of where I’m going and it felt awesome to have a sense of freedom and to go where I wanted to go.
Clubs and training centres can offer disability windsurfing lessons without needing to invest in special gear, with much of the required equipment capable of being adapted from ordinary windsurfing kit.
Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, based just a 10 minute walk up the river from Haven Banks Education Centre and RYA Training Centre, have helped many of their students try windsurfing.
Subsidised by Sportivate, students attend 8-10 two-hour sessions organised by Exeter Deaf Academy Sports Teacher, Geoff Davey. A keen windsurfer, Davey wanted to encourage his students to have a go at getting on the water and helped make the sessions happen.
Before the sessions began at the centre, the instructor visited the school with the equipment and ran a session in the sports hall, allowing students to become comfortable with various aspects of the sport.
The following week the students went to the centre for their first session. All of them got on the water and enjoyed the space and independent learning the sport provided. By the end of the course some were proficient in sailing a triangle and others were proficient in tacking and gybing, with many working towards the levels of the RYA Windsurfing Scheme.
Sarah Sibley, RYA Disability Development Officer, windsurfer, instructor and coach, has been encouraged by the wide support for disability windsurfing found within the windsurfing community.
Sarah added: “I’m delighted to see so many clubs and centres disproving the notion that people with disabilities can’t windsurf.
“Through Sailability, we can help connect clubs and centres with people looking for a new activity to try, and the response so far has been fantastic.”
If your club or centre is interested in providing Sailability Windsurfing, contact [email protected]